Will Smith, prim and speaking in a Nigerian accent which goes in-and-out throughout the film, portrays Dr. Bennet Omalu, a Pittsburgh assistant coroner who almost accidentally went to war with the National Football League over their policy of denying that players were dying from the affects of massive, continuing concussions during their playing years. That's the basis of this informative true story, which starts out fascinating with the autopsy of famed Steeler center Mike Webster (played under facial make-up by an almost unidentifiable David Morse). But then it develops into just another misunderstood, heroic whistle-blower type film as it plods along to its predictable destination.
This documentary short recounts the horrifying stories of several women who were raped and abused by soldiers during the ongoing rebellions and wars in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and then largely abandoned by their menfolk as ruined property. The film recounts how the women in that country are worse than second class citizens, slaving away night and day on domestic chores and also working in the fields. The film is comprised of many affecting "big head closeup" interviews with a series of women telling their stories. It intercuts these with scenes from a tribunal where soldiers were on trial for war crimes while women victims testified against them hidden behind veils for fear of reprisals. The film was gorgeously shot in wide-screen digital, one of the best looking documentaries of the year. Its message was strong and vital; but the editing schema was rather diffuse as it cut back and forth between interviews seemingly randomly...which, for me at least, was confusing and tended to lessen the emotional impact.
This documentary short tells the story of Aneta, who is serving time in a Polish prison for murdering her grandmother. While in prison, she becomes a caretaker for elderly women in a nearby rest home. The film is quite sympathetic at showing Aneta's relating to these elderly women, especially one, Helena, who has been severely disabled for many years; and the film manages in a short time to make a convincing case that after nine years incarceration, Aneta is rehabilitated enough to deserve parole. The film certainly presents insight into the prison system in Poland, which comes off as quite enlightened.
Spike Lee is channeling Aristophanes (the ancient Greek playwright), and retelling his play "Lysistrata" in hip hop blank verse. In the retelling, it's about warring urban Chicago gangs (the Spartans and the Trojans, just in case the message is too obscure), whose wives and girlfriends join together to promote peace and stop the drive-by killing of children and innocents, by denying sexual favors to their men. The film comes complete with an observing Greek Chorus of one (played by the ubiquitous Samuel L. Jackson who seems to be in every film released this month); and has a large cast of mostly fine African American actors, led by Nick Cannon and Wesley Snipes as the rival gang leaders (along with John Cusack and D. B. Sweeney in crucial roles as crusading priest and mayor of Chicago respectively). In addition, Tayonah Parris, Angela Bassett and Jennifer Hudson have vital roles as Lysistrata and her activist womenfolk.
Lee is doing his thing as provocateur and black culture, social commentary maven here. The anti-gun, anti-gang message is quite successfully stated. However, the film is something of a mess of narrative posturing and overstatement...just about every large scale scene with multiple characters suffers from diffuse direction and an annoying artificial staginess. Still, Lee's ambitious goals of social relevance and timeliness of message make this one of the most important films of the decade. Just not one that I enjoyed.
This intriguing short documentary is about two men who originally met in dire circumstances as enemies on the battlefield in the Iraq-Iran war twenty years ago. And somehow, twenty years later fate brought them together again as friends in Vancouver, Canada. The film is mostly comprised of on-screen interviews with the two men telling their stories from their individual points of view. It's a fascinating confluence of synchronicity and fate...but as a film it is just competent filmmaking, and not quite as emotionally affecting as it possibly could have been.
This film is the polar opposite of Spotlight, about the failure of big media under political pressure, rather than the triumph of media over ecclesiastical pressure. In 2004, with George W. Bush's re-election in the balance, CBS news (actually 60 Minutes, with Dan Rather reporting) ran a story about documents showing that Bush avoided service in Viet Nam by using and abusing influence to join the National Guard as a pilot trainee where he ducked even that service. The producer of that well researched segment was Mary Mapes (played with vigor and emotional resonance here by the wonderful Cate Blanchett). When the forces of political disinformation ganged up to declare the story false, the politically vulnerable corporate entity of CBS disavowed its employees and heads rolled from Rather (played here by a too-old, but distinguished looking Robert Redford) down to the lowest researcher (one of which, played by Topher Grace, was given some thankless dialog hitting the nail on the head about what happened.)
The based-on-fact story is told from Mapes' point of view, adapted from the book she wrote about the incident. If the script comes off as possibly self-serving, nevertheless the stink of the CBS corporate back-down reverberates today. There is some good acting here; and an important subtext about the corrosive combination of big media and politics. I recall this incident...and this film discloses exactly what I suspected at the time. But for all its good intentions, the film bogs down in the minutia of details, and a tendency to over-dramatize its message. Still, the film worked for me.
This is a documentary short film which introduces us to three women who variously work in and around a Bolivian zinc mine. Their stories are of unremitting degradation (rape and fear of rape, extreme sexism) and amazing pluck (using dynamite regularly as their weapon of choice against the drunk miners and their abusive fathers.) It sounds like a total downer of a film, which it sort of is. But the women are quite wonderful.
An elderly couple on the brink of celebrating their 45th wedding anniversary must cope with revelations about the husband's previous relationship 50 years earlier. The two performances, especially for my money that of the luminous Charlotte Rampling, are quite fine. Tom Courtnay lets it all hang out, looking all of his 78 years. Director Andrew Haigh proves that he is an auteur of rare sensibility outside of the gay film ghetto (his film Weekend is one of my all-time favorites.) And the scenery around Norfolk England is gorgeously photographed by cinematographer Lol Crawley. This is one of those rare films about growing old in a relationship, and does it without the tragic pathos of an Amour. That makes it all the more special and unique. But maybe a little too low-key to achieve sublimity.
This moving documentary short is totally animated using various techniques (rotoscoping for one.) It is narrated by the animated talking head of Bill Babbitt, who tells the harrowing story of his brother Manny who was executed by the state of California in 1999. What distinguishes this documentary is not that an "innocent" man was executed...rather that justice may have been poorly served by making this war damaged PTSD victim who was poorly represented at trial serve the ultimate punishment. The film is moving, educational, and has a strong anti-death penalty subtext. The animation is a clever way of illustrating events that happened well before the subject was put under the scrutiny of any documentary cameramen. This is a painful story that needed to be told.
It's small town Maine, and bad boy Casper and good boy Dominic are best friends. Casper is played by my current fave young actor Emory Cohen, and he is great at playing a bad boy with a deceptively sweet face. The film itself is one of those resolutely bleak and shaky-camera indie coming-of-age flicks about potato harvesting and smuggling drugs across the Canadian border etc. etc. etc. I suppose it is a realistic slice of real life and depicts accurate characterizations; but oh, so predictable.
Watched under the title of A Girl in the River: The Price of Forgiveness.
This is a shocking and effective documentary short about a 19 year old Pakistani girl who shamed her family by marrying a boy below their supposed station. Her father and uncle then proceeded to shoot her in the head and throw her in the local river to avenge the family's honor. She survived; and that is just the start of this family's torturous journey through the perverse legal system of that country when it comes to honor killing and the inferior status of women. Chilling stuff...the rationalizations of such inhumanity by the perpetrators and the community are simply astounding.
Despite my decrepitude, I'm a fan of intelligent YA dystopian epics; and for my money this one is smarter and better made than the Hunger Games franchise films. What I really like about this film was that the extraordinary 3D special effects were totally justified by making them part of a computer simulation with important consequences. Plus the cast is just so darn attractive. Perhaps the world of the film is a tad formulaic. I can live with that because the action sequences are so well designed, the characters are three dimensional and lived-in, and the result on screen is just darn good entertainment.
This film is an earnest recounting of the "based on a true story" about Renee, a bipolar cocaine addict "cutter" (who metaphorically "wrote love on her arms" with her own blood.) Her plight, and her attempts at recovery inspired a "My Space" article about her which led the author of the piece to start the eponymous 12-step type of support movement dedicated to helping recovering addicts (which I had never heard of before this film.)
The film comes off as something of a pretentious PR promotion for the non-profit (?) organization. However, its fine cast (Kat Dennings, strident as the troubled Renee, Rupert Friend as an ex-addict who helped her, Chad Michael Murray as the writer and founder of the movement) and some elaborate drug induced dream sequences made the film worth watching...sort of. Why this 2012 film suddenly rated a very limited theatrical release now is a mystery.
Noah Baumbach goes more mainstream than usual in this satiric comedy that has echoes of Apatow's brand of pop film. A childless 40-something couple (Ben Stiller and Naomi Watts) drift away from their baby rearing contemporary friends and befriend a twenty-something hipster couple (Adam Driver and Amanda Seyfried.) Stiller plays a creatively stalled documentary filmmaker; and Driver is an ambitious, amoral documentarian wannabe. This was a dynamic that I could personally relate to! The film contained some sly and humorous digs at contemporary culture by electronics. But occasionally the jabs were so obvious that the satire curdled into meanness. I didn't love this film, only occasionally laughed. For all its excellent cast and Manhattan based film insider milieu, I couldn't help feeling that the film was trying too hard to be smart and hip and just didn't quite connect with either.
Belfast, Northern Ireland was the most evil place on earth in 1971 (it had lots of competition from other "B" cities that year: Bucharest, Belgrade, Beirut.) However the factional civil war in Belfast between the Catholics (IRA, Provos) and the Protestants (including the British army) was tearing the fabric of civilization apart in that beleaguered city. This film is the story of a British private soldier (another extraordinary performance by young Jack O'Connell) who is separated from his mates after a lethal confrontation at the border between the two factions and viciously hunted down by both sides for different reasons.
The film re-creates the time and place with frightening accuracy (even if it actually was shot in England.) It ratchets up the tension to an almost unbearable degree. My only problem with the film (other than occasional difficulty understanding the accented dialog), was that I was never quite certain who was on which side, since treachery seemed to be everywhere and loyalties were confused.
If ever a pretty good film didn't call for a sequel, this was the one. Well, it did provide a showcase for several plucky old bags (mostly the English tea drinking variety.) And the Jaipur and Mumbai setting was exotically frenetic enough. Oh, and Richard Gere still has it in his 60s. But mostly the film was a tedious rehash of Indian relationship cliches, wedding jitters, and hotel miscellanea. I couldn't wait for it to end.
Neill Blomkamp has made another particularly ugly and dispiriting, although amazingly realistic appearing, near-future dystopia set in his native Johannesburg. This tale of a hacker genius (Dev Patel) who cracks the consciousness program barrier and installs his invention on a discarded police robot, simply goes too far in presenting the worst aspects of human nature along with a dubious technology that beggars belief.
The live action fairy tale genre gets a spiffy new Disney gloss with this non-musical production. Too bad the story seems old and tired (but then I'm old and tired, too) with few plot inventions to spice up the original tale, unlike the recent Malificent. Of course the costumes and sets were fabulous; and there were a few scenes of magical special effects that were transporting. And for a seasoned TV watcher it was fun to see Rob Stark, Daisy and Lady Rose on the big screen. But Cate Blanchett's wicked step-mother didn't quite sell the menace enough (although she certainly wore her stunning gowns with elan.) Director Branagh succeeded in putting the spectacle on screen; but for me it was a thorough meh.
Back in 2009 I watched this early film by Damien Chazelle (seemingly out-of-nowhere director of Whiplash). My review at the time: Chazelle is a young Bostonian who set himself the difficult task of re-inventing the American film musical in grainy 16mm black & white. The story, what there is of one, is about a young jazz trumpeteer and the two women he interacts with rather aimlessly over the course of a week or so. The musical numbers mostly revolve around parties and jazz gigs, and there's a lot of incidental tap dancing and fantasy. It's all reminiscent of recent (and not so recent) French cinema, works from Jacques Demy, Christophe Honoré, Alain Resnais. But for all the director's laudable ambition, I fear he failed to pull it off, for me at least, since he lacked something those other directors have, a coherent narrative sense. Still, the original music and nifty dancing made for some enjoyable moments.
I'm glad to see that in the interim, Chazelle obtained that coherent narrative sense!
Roberto (a youthful Jean-Louis Trintignant) is a meek law student living in early '60s Rome. On the morning of the August holiday, Bruno (a superbly antic performance by Vittorio Gassman) and Roberto hook up by chance and embark on a two-day road trip where they encounter just about every facet of contemporary Italian life, from the peasantry to the idle rich, in this B&W manic tragi-comedy. Bruno is a wild and crazy driver, which accounts for the film's title (Italian slang for fast cars overtaking slow ones on winding roads.) The film has some unaccountable lapses in the narrative; but it is quite entertaining. It is remarkably non-dated; and as fine a depiction of its "dolce vita" era as any contemporary film.
It's 1948. A soldier arrives by bus at his home town of Parkman, Indiana that he left years ago. He's more or less accompanied by a floozy he met in Chicago. Frank Sinatra played the cynical ex-soldier, and a very young Shirley MacLaine got her first Oscar nomination playing the naive girl. Others in the outstanding cast were Dean Martin, as Sinatra's boozy gambler friend, and Arthur Kennedy (another Oscar nomination) as Sinatra's upstanding older brother. The film was adapted from James Jones follow-up novel to "From Here To Eternity;" and directed by Vincente Minnelli in one of his only non-musical dramas. All well and good...except that this hokey melodrama just didn't ring true to me, with characters whose actions were internally inconsistent with themselves, and a disappointingly truncated ending that literally made me angry leaving the theater.
The Scampia is the name of the particularly gang infested projects in Naples, Italy. This film is the heavily fictionalized, based on a true story account of a boy from the Scampia, coached by his father, who won a judo gold medal at the 2000 Sydney Olympics, despite all the impediments put in his way. As presented, it's a predictable melodrama, sort of a "Karate Kid vs. the Camorra" story. Nevertheless, the film worked for me on an emotionally satisfying level. I guess I'm just a sucker for a sports story about a good looking underdog beating the odds.
Davide is a 14-year old Italian pretty boy whose macho father and loving, but weak, mother make his life hell. He runs away and hooks up with a society of hustlers and drag queens, living on the streets of Catania. That's the set-up for this vivid slice of modern Italian life which recalls early Fellini stylistically. The film isn't fun to watch and pulls no punches in its depiction of an abused gay kid. The wide-screen production values are quite high; and first time actor Davide Capone is a true find in the lead role.
I am catching up late (but at least in excellent 3D on the big screen) with this live action Disney fairy tale film, a prequel of sorts to Sleeping Beauty. Despite the fact that I'm several decades too old for fairy tales, I actually enjoyed this film, which presents a conflicted villain in Maleficent that has more subtlety to her nature than is usual in fairy tales. The technical wizardry of incorporating live action actors into an animated world has made huge strides since Roger Rabbit. Of course, the star power of Angelina Joli and Elle Fanning helps. And Brenton Thwaites makes a fetching Prince Charming. But in the end it is mostly just eye candy with a silly story attached.
I can't figure out why this heavy-handed 1963 B&W Italian film about corruption in the Neapolitan city council and building trade has achieved acclaim. The film opened with a shocking and effective disaster scene and then degenerated into almost two hours of political squabbling that means nothing in current context. That the lead villain was played by the wonderful American actor Rod Steiger (badly dubbed into Italian) doesn't explain it. If anything, Steiger's performance was muted compared to his other work. As an example of Italian neo-realism, I just found the film boring and the scenario jumbled and confusing. It didn't help that the festival screening had poor sound (too loud and distorted) and was shown with the incorrect aspect ratio.
I needed to see this film a second time on the big screen to process it correctly. It's a tour de force of film making, of course. But a second viewing exposed some narrative flaws...the psychotic magical realism and sheer theatrical bravado seemed forced and over the top. This time the most fun I had was trying to identify each of the editorial cheats to make the "one take" trick work. It was a masterful job of planning and execution, handled virtually flawlessly by actors, camera operator, special effects mavens and director. But I still think the kinetic, live drum score was the best of any film this past year...damn the Academy music branch!
I was 14 when I first watched East of Eden, a couple of weeks after James Dean's untimely demise (on September 30, 1955). The Kazan film had a profound effect on me, even at that age. I think my serious crush on James Dean was the first undeniable indication to myself of my gayness. I ended up watching the film over a dozen times that year...and every time I sobbed during the same sequence which opens this beautifully observed film, as we watch Richard Thomas react tearfully to the iconic scene of Cal and Abra's emotional farewell to Cal's father. Amazingly enough, that same scene, even truncated in this re-creation, still has the power to move me to tears.
In 1955 I was a few years younger than the characters in James Bridges' story about the reaction of a few college students in Conway, Arkansas to the news of Dean's death; but the familiar sense of time and place was so eerily truthful that I was blown away again (I had watched this film when it came out in 1978, and the film has lost none of its immediacy in the interim.) What is striking now is how wonderful the casting was...Richard Thomas as the central character Jimmy J, of course, but also his mates played by the very youthful Dennis Quaid, Tom Hulce and Dennis Christopher before they were famous.
Perhaps those younger than I will not experience the powerful nostalgic emotions that this film still offers someone who lived through the time. But even so, as a teenage drama, this film still stands out as a timeless classic.
I can't even write a coherent review of this campy mess of a space opera: a feminist Flash Gordon wannabe with modern-day CGI (Eddie Redmayne as Ming the Merciless?...it is to laugh.) The real mystery is why such obvious talent for dazzling visuals should be wasted on a story of such monumental and nonsensical inanity.
Sally Hawkins illustrates all her acting chops and star quality in this short film, playing a help-line volunteer who attempts to talk down a suicidal elderly man (the voice of Jim Broadbent) who has called in seeking companionship as he drifts away. The story seemed contrived; but Hawkins made it work anyway.
Parveneh is a young and traditional Afghani girl working undocumented in Switzerland, who encounters the real world and changes her world view while attempting to telegraph money back to her family. If the initially naive Parveneh's transformation in one night seemed a little rushed, it still made for an entertaining and illuminating short film.
This is a simple, one-set-up short film about a photographer who apparently travels around Tibet shooting family portraits against photo-realistic mural backgrounds. What makes the film unique and poignant is the subtle way it humanizes the subjects, documentary style. The film ends with a stunning visual flourish which just made me realize how much I was appreciating the simplicity and elegance of the film.
This short film tells the reminiscent story of two Irish children who were given chicks to raise by their father during the "troubles" of the 1970s. It was pleasant enough, if slight; but I probably would have liked the film more if it were subtitled, since I couldn't make out much of the dialog.
This rather longish Israeli short film tells the story of Aya, a vaguely dissatisfied woman (Sarah Adler) who, while waiting at the airport to meet her husband, by chance becomes a chauffeur for a Danish gentleman (Ulrich Thomsen), driving him from the airport to his hotel in Jerusalem. What happens between them on the trip is mostly internalized and depends on the skill of the two actors to pull it off. It would make an interesting companion piece to Tom Hardy's Locke, which also was a personal drama taking place inside a car on the highway. However, despite the subtle acting, the story in the Israeli short is rather thin and predictable.
This was an extremely short animated film which told the wack story of a life recalled through an annoyingly skipping record. The animation was rather ugly; and I just didn't get the point of it. This film ended for me a particularly pedestrian and disappointing group of animated short Oscar nominees.
The 7-year old middle sister of a Norwegian family narrates a simple childish anecdote of wanting a bicycle and getting what her avant guard parents wanted instead. The colorful, but simplistic 2D animation was adequate to tell a short story that just didn't interest me very much.
This animated short film tells a man's love story solely through the actions of his dog's eating habits. It's short and sweet...and mostly went over my head because I kept thinking that all that junk food was bound to kill the poor puppy. The animation looked great, though...this was a superior studio effort by the Disney artists, after all.
This is an animated short film done in simplistic 2D drawing style which presents a moral fable about a young pig who thanklessly is protecting his town while being abused by his classmates. The story hangs together; but the slender plot didn't sustain my interest even for its short 18 minute duration.
This animated short film featured innovative paint-on-wall stop-motion technique, adding 3D real objects in front of the wall. It told the story of two bickering brothers dealing with their elderly, dying mother. The script had moments of illumination; but I never quite understood the dynamic between the two brothers. The animation was much better than the story it told.
Patricia Clarkson is superb as Celia, empty nester matriarch of a nouveau riche family (two grown boys and their significant others, no children) that is getting together for Labor Day weekend at their lovely Tahoe lakeside home. That is the set-up for a low-keyed, dysfunctional family drama that makes up for its unoriginal plot with some interesting characters and fine acting. I particularly responded to the dynamic of Celia's relationship with her elder, gay son played by Zachary Booth, who was Glenn Close's son in the TV series "Damages." However the film really goes nowhere, the story resolves ambiguously leaving the viewer vaguely unsatisfied.
A sexpot pop star singer with pushy mother problems and suicidal impulses falls for the L.A. cop that saved her from killing herself. That's the set-up for this oh so familiar love story which reminded me of the '90s film The Bodyguard. In other words I could have written the entire plot after watching the first 5 minutes. Still, Gugu Mbatha-Raw had the convincing star quality to pull off the role (even if as a singer she's no Whitney Houston). And there was real chemistry between her and Nate Parker, an actor who was born to play the title role in an O. J. Simpson biopic. I only watched this because the end credit song "Grateful" was nominated for the Oscar...and even that wasn't good enough to get Diane Warren her often nominated statue.
I'm assuming that this was the three-part television mini-series that was carried on the History Channel in January, 2015.
I really enjoyed this mini-series. Sure, the history was largely bunk (too many anachronisms and factual errors to enumerate here.) But maybe there's a need for more dramas about the American revolution, perhaps ones a tad more accurate like the HBO series "John Adams" or even AMC's "TURN". I do have the impression that compared to the Civil War or even the World Wars, that the Revolutionary War has been under served by the media. Be that as it may, what we were given in this mini-series was a story of how a few guerrilla terrorists in Boston threw a hissy fit against the tyranny of the cuckolded British general sent by the Crown to control them, and mostly got slaughtered...until they were saved by vacillating politicians and the intervention of the heroic General Washington. Sort of a Young Guns of the Colonies. Who knew our founding fathers were so hot headed and just plain hot?
This is a Japanese historical fantasy anime from the folks at Studio Ghibli...and it is far from their best work. The 2D animation is occasionally pretty, especially when the subject on screen is forest and nature; but more often the visuals are static and ordinary, the character animation downright pedestrian. The story of a foundling princess who grew out of bamboo shoot and turned out to be literally from the Moon, held about zero interest for me. I mean, really, just another "Princess cartoon" which spends too much time to deliver too little payoff (although its insights into Japanese culture and mythology were intriguing enough to rate the 2-stars.)
The original How to Train Your Dragon had an irrepressible elan. The novel flying sequences provided a unique 3D flying experience that felt fresh and exciting. The sequel, despite another winning performance by Jay Baruchel as the young dragon master Hiccup, just didn't provide the same sense of wonder. Maybe I just have to admit that I'm probably not the intended audience for this sort of boy + friends vs. bad guys + evil monsters animated flick. The story never rose above the level of predictable; and the Dreamworks style of 3D animation felt a little flat and unoriginal to my taste.
Stop motion animation is a tricky business; but the immaculate technicians at Laika (e.g. Coraline) have mastered the technique as few artists have. Based on a children's book, this is the fantasy story of a stolen orphan boy raised by trash collecting trolls in an odd feudal society where symbolic white hats rule aided by a rapacious exterminator. The vocal talent is quite fine, led by a virtually unidentifiable Ben Kingsley as Snatcher, the exterminator. And the production design, painstakingly built on miniature stages, certainly stood out for its originality and complexity. Perhaps the plot suffered from both over-complication and ultimate predictability. I would think the intended children's audience would find it all a bit tedious. However, the end credit sequence contained a section of pure genius: when two characters debated the epistemological nature of reality as they were shown being manipulated by their creators/animators. Unfortunately when the only Bravo! moment comes in the end credits, the film isn't quite working on all cylinders.
Everything is awesome...well, except for the script which is just a pastiche of pop culture nonsense amped up to a frenetic frenzy. Still, the 3D visuals are awesome, a truly original concept. And the many familiar voice actors (Chris Pratt is having a banner year) are quite good. 2-stars for the script. 4-stars for everything else. An honest 3.
I actually watched this obscure festival film in Seattle on June 16, 2007. But when I dug up this review from my records last night, I decided to add this dog to the database just so I could re-post the review.
Here's a couple of things I'd rather have done than watch this film: have a tooth extracted without Novocaine. Stare at the green EXIT sign to the right of the screen for 90 minutes (which is what I mostly did). It starts out with an out of focus fly on the lens and goes down hill from there. It wouldn't be so bad, even though almost nothing happens the entire film, except for the incredibly shaky hand held camera (it gave me motion sickness during several scenes); and terrible, artier than thou compositions (e.g. a five minute monolog scene shot out of focus with just a little girl's nostril in focus in tight closeup on the right edge of the screen). This was an insufferable film and whoever programmed it for SIFF should be shot. I'm giving it a half-star (and I'm being generous because at least there was an image on screen at all times.)
On second viewing on the big screen (because of the fabulous sound editing, and the impact of the amazing drumming, I recommend this film be watched on the big screen - or at least with a superb sound system), I'm downgrading Whiplash a half-star. It's still enormously powerful, with two dynamite performances which match each other beat for beat, some great big-band jazz music, and tension to burn. The second time around, though, some of the plot contrivances simply can't be ignored. I still love this film and can't wait to see what Damien Chazelle comes up with next.
No Dukes (or insects) were harmed in the making of this film. In fact, this paean to Sapphic love had no men in it at all (that'll teach me to avoid all spoilers!). Still, it all looked ravishing: the clothes, the mansion, the countryside, the perfume (yes, there was a main title credit for perfume!) were perfectly coiffed and presented. And the s&m kink between the two women was so tastefully done that it was almost boring. I'm not sure why so many cineaste friends of mine went gaga over this film. But at least the moths and butterflies which are a running leitmotif throughout the film look and sound fascinating. I can't say that for the cat that just simpers on a cushion. Maybe it's just me; but the ritualistic nature of the central relationship seemed artificial and just made no sense. Your mileage may vary.
This strange black comedy is a Balkan version of Pride, the story of a group of gays who enlist some gangsters to protect them from skinhead violence as they plan for the first gay pride parade in Belgrade in 2009. In my opinion, foreign language comedies rarely translate well into other cultures. This film in particular is so centered on the Serbian homophobic norm (including frequent use of slang dialog that even the subtitle writer admitted couldn't be translated) that much of what happened made little sense. However, the characters, gay and straight, are vivid, as is the gay bashing violence. I suppose that ultimately this is a film about progress and affirmation; but the journey to get there was quite unpleasant to watch.
This is a hard-hitting, unsettling Belgian policier thriller which goes places (boy lover pedophilia rings, horrendous home invasions, a cop going off the reservation) that most films don't dare to go. It is plot heavy...and I'm not even going to attempt to summarize the various levels of complexity. It all centers around police Inspector Cafmeyer (a superb performance by Geert Van Rampelberg), who has more than the usual personal involvement in the serial killer case he's working on. The film takes its time to get to its disturbing conclusion...but for aficionados of the genre, the surprising twists and turns will be unique enough to satisfy even the most jaded viewer.
In this illuminating film, Nathan (Asa Butterfield) is an English teenage boy who was diagnosed in the autistic spectrum as a child. He's also a math prodigy. The film tells the convincing story of how such a special boy developed: tutored by an eccentric genius (Rafe Spall), attended math camp in Taiwan, chosen to represent Britain at the International Math Olympiad in Tokyo He's also quite a bit to handle for his mother (the luminous Sally Hawkins), and his team coach (Eddie Marsan.) This is the director Morgan Matthews' first fiction film after several documentaries, including the film these characters are based on, Beautiful Young Minds. Matthews is good with his fine cast, who all give career performances. He's especially good at creating exciting visuals...his montage of Tokyo, for instance, is extraordinarily vivid. If the third act is somewhat disappointing, it is nevertheless probably true to life. This is one of the most insightful films about autism we've had yet.
In the relatively small world of international gay cinema, Argentine director Marco Berger is almost alone in emphasizing the subtle cues of deferred male-male romantic attraction over sex. In this film Eugenio (darkly handsome Manuel Vignau) and Martin (light complected Mateo Chiarino) were childhood friends, although separated by class (Martin was working class, Eugenio from the haut bourgeois.) As adults, somewhat closeted Eugenio, now inheritor of his family home in the countryside near Buenos Aires, takes in the itinerant, homeless (and ostensibly straight) Martin as a live-in laborer. That is the starting point of this achingly beautiful film which is a subtle dance of seduction that happens almost entirely in subtext. For those who crave overt man-on-man action this is going to be an excruciatingly frustrating film. But for those like myself who are more interested in the rarely portrayed mental processes of stifled homosexual desire and foreplay, this film will come as a breath of fresh air.
Lake Dal, in strife torn Kashmir, is the setting for this picturesque romance. Two young Islamic men are determined to leave their humdrum lives rowing tourists around the increasingly polluted lake, and bus to Delhi. But their journey is postponed by revolt and the ensuing government curfew. They become involved with a young girl ecologist who is studying the lake, which actually is the star of the film...a lake covered with moss, home to myriad of houseboats and an ethnic melange. The film is short, the setting exotic and in its way beautiful. I liked the characters and appreciated that this is one serious Indian film without the musical trappings of Bollywood.
Benjamin (played with panache by Tom Schilling) is a skilled hacker who is determined to make a mark in the shady "darknet" where other hackers hang out. He joins a group of three other hackers to attract attention by attacking the systems of the German authorities. That is the set up for a superbly made German cyber thriller which could be ranked as one of the best films in that genre ever made. Director Baron bo Odar (who first made his mark with the clever film The Silence) boldly avoids the sophomore hex by writing a complex story which develops in totally unpredictable ways, and inventing a dazzling virtual reality technique utilizing metaphorical imagery. I was reminded of a previous German film which seemed to come out of nowhere and predict great things for its director, Tom Tykwer's Run Lola Run. As it is, Who Am I can compete with the best films of its genre in world cinema and I can only hope it finds its audience.
This is an amiable kids film about Dylan, a 12-year old Australian boy (Ed Oxenbould who was so good in Alexander and his...bad day) who takes part in a world-wide paper plane flying contest. Dylan's widowered father (Sam Worthington) is depressed; but the plucky kid perseveres. The plot is totally predictable; but there are some really fine montages of Sydney and Tokyo to appreciate. I'm just slightly too jaded to be the ideal audience for this film. Still, it is good fun to watch.
In 1999, Russia invaded Chechnya for the second time. This masterfully made war drama (a surprising change of genres for the director, Oscar winning Michael Hazanavicius) tells parallel stories of a tragedy beset Chechnyan family and a Russian conscript soldier who witnesses and takes part in terrible carnage. The plot is complex and unpredictable...I don't intend to go into it here. But the setting, the incredibly violent and vicious actions of the Russian military against the populace is presented through the eyes of a couple of Western peace activists: a reporter played by Hazanavicius regular Bérénice Bejo, and an humanitarian aid worker played by the always wonderful Annette Benning. But the story belongs to the beset Chechnyan family...especially the adorable nine year old boy who observes his parents being killed and wanders off with his baby brother. The eponymous "search" is about him...and it is heart wrenching. This is an extraordinary film that worked for me on every level.
Four high school aged boys living in Oslo in 1967 identify individually with the Beatles. The film focuses on Kim (Louis Williams), the Paul wannabe, as he comes of age...relating to girls, drinking, making innocent mischief, fostering his ambitions to be in a rock band. There is nothing here that we haven't seen before in films about teenagers. But all the characters are well cast, easy to care about as they travel through adolescence. The adults are more problematic: the older woman preying on one of the good looking boys, the divorcing parents. Still, Norway in the '60s is authentically presented, and the film makes great use of Beatles and Leonard Cohen music. I have to say I enjoyed this film a lot despite its predictability.
The first season of 10 half-hour episodes of this Amazon Prime series were well worth watching...if only for the luminous and ingratiating performance by Gael Garcia Bernal as the new, young conductor of the New York Philharmonic orchestra. Other than that it is a reasonably enjoyable serialized romantic comedy based on classical music, drugs and sex. The production values are as high as most of the pay cable, single camera rom-coms. And veteran performers Bernadette Peters and Malcolm McDowell are pleasantly hammy. However most of the other characters are wan creations, including a mostly wasted turn by gorgeous Saffron Burrows. I'll watch a second season if it is offered.